Yipe! The Black Owl slugs a bad guy.


Medium: Comic books
Original Publisher: Prize Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Robert Turner (writer) and Pete Riss (artist)
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By 1940, only two years after Superman had become the first break-out hit in comic books, it was already becoming de rigeur for a new publisher entering the field to have a long-underwear guy or two prominently featured right from …

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… the start. Prize Publications, already established in the publishing industry with a line of pulp magazines, jumped into comics with the eponymous anthology title Prize Comics, where the super guys were Power Nelson, the superhero on the cover; a Mandrake-like magician named Jupiter; and the Batmanesque K the Unknown, who skulked around in the back pages.

Apparently, it was decided very early on that K wasn't working as such, because with the second issue (April, 1940) the character dropped that name and started calling himself The Black Owl. Either way, he was Doug Danville, one of those rich guys who put on costumes and fight crime so as to give meaning to an otherwise pointless existence, like Firebrand, Lady Luck or The Whip. At first, in fact, his super suit consisted adding an owl mask to his usual attire, a tuxedo. But he soon traded that in for blue skin-tights, which made him fit in better with the others.

The series was initially produced by the Jack Binder studio, which did The Whizzer for Marvel, Bulletman for Fawcett and Daredevil for Lev Gleason. The studio personnel who handled this particular assignment were writer Robert Turner (Swing Sisson) and artist Pete Riss (who used the pseudonym Pete Nebird). Later creators who handled The Black Owl included such luminaries as Wendell Crowley (later editor of Captain Marvel), George Storm (Phil Hardy) and Jack Kirby (The Losers).

The Black Owl (no relation, by the way) was part of a large crossover in the 24th issue (October, 1942). He, The Green Lama, Dr. Frost (no relation) and every other heroic character in the title joined forces to fight Frankenstein, its decidedly non-heroic series protagonist. The bunch didn't get together again, but this was the closest the publisher ever came to emulating DC/All-American's success with The Justice Society of America.

Except for the costume switch, Prize (which later pioneered in romance comics, by the way) published The Black Owl unchanged for more than three years, often making him the cover-featured star. But in the 34th issue (September, 1943), Doug was seized by a desire to add even more meaning to his existence, so he enlisted in the Army, went off to fight Nazis, and never appeared in another comic book. But the series continued — he simply passed the costume and the nom du superhero on to someone else.

The new Black Owl was an already-established character. Walt Walters was the father of the twins Rick and Dick Walters, who had been fighting crime in Prize Comics for a couple of years under the names "Yank" and "Doodle". The two series were merged, with the boys functioning as Dad's sidekicks.

Again, the series ran unchanged for years. In fact, the new Black Owl lasted about as long as the original. Eventually, however, the whole superhero genre ran out of steam. A couple of years after World War II ended, there were very few left, but the three-hero Owl/Yank/Doodle series was still there. In #64 (June, 1947) a bullet wound led Walt to rethink the idea of superheroing at his age, and then it was down to Yank and Doodle, with The Black Owl available only for consultation.

With its 69th issue (April, 1948), Prize Comics became Prize Comics Western, where the new star was Dusty Ballew. Everything that didn't fit the new look was jettisoned, and that was the end of all three. Until, of course, AC Comics came along, and even there, they've had little more than one or two extremely minor roles in Femforce.


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Text © 2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Prize Publications.